trip to Istanbul

April 8th, 2016 | Posted by admin in UPDATES - (0 Comments)

I received an amazing gift from my youngest son Josh.  He took me on a trip to Istanbul Turkey last month. The gift of time was something I will cherish as I know how rare it is to get an entire week alone with one of your children.  We had the opportunity to share conversations on our struggles, fears, happiness, politics, food, friends, family, life and how to experience joy, and of course love.  These conversations were shared in the backdrop of an incredible historic city.  I started this blog with the intention of understanding how sharing a meal, serving family and friends is central to my happiness and expressing love.  How wonderful that my son is carrying on that tradition and love.

We are living in difficult times and we were very fortunate to travel when we did to Istanbul.  The history, the sights, the food, the bazaar, the Bosphorous and the people were unforgettable.  I will never be able to describe the pure wonder of what we saw and I hope that tourists will not be afraid to venture out to this beautiful cosmopolitan city.

I am going to share a few pictures of the sights and also share with you the food we loved!  We picked this area of the world primarily because of the food.  I grew up on Armenian recipes, and yes I am an Armenian traveling to Turkey but this is part of our history.

The food that mirrors what I grew up with was closest to the Anatolian cuisine, as it is close to where my ancestors were from.  I can’t explain how excited I was to taste the flavors so much like my grandmother’s.

The sumptuous pomegranates are the fruit of choice… the seeds are in the salads, the juice is served at most meals and the salad dressings are mixed with this juice.  We fell in love with this fruit.  The next spice used in most of the meals was sumac.  We became fans of this spice on meat, in eggs, and on salads.  It was used in many ways making everything it touched was delicious!

I grew up eating lamb.  Since my father loved lamb, the Armenian heritage we learned to love lamb and this city is all about lamb.  We had lamb kouftas, lamb kebabs, lamb chops, lamb on lahmajoon (Armenian meat pie)… it was all lamb lamb lamb!  Meat is always served with fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and a flat bread to wrap up your meat and veggies in.  Yalanchi and Dolma grape leaves wrapped around a meat or rice filling served hot and cold was another of my favorites and familiar to my Armenian recipes.  The salads made with rocket lettuce, parsley, sumac and pomegranate seeds with a dressing I am trying to duplicate.  And I have not even touched on dessert!

The Turkish delight with flavor combinations of walnuts, honey, pomegranate and pecans dusted with sugar and cut from logs appearing in bakeries up and down the busy streets.  I am now salivating thinking of the buttery, flaky Baklava.  It is layered and cut out of large sheets pans, it is rolled to look like cigars and dusted with nuts, and it was unlike any I have had here except my grandmother’s.  We felt like we were in dessert heaven and we weren’t even missing chocolate!   Quince is another fruit that I hadn’t had here in the states very often.  It was served cooked with a whipped milky cheese froth on top drizzled with honey and pistachios, another wonderful dessert.

Oh I think I forgot to mention the bread.  I have a recipe for choereg an Armenian buttery bread we had at breakfast and it was served for breakfast at a quaint cafe, the first time I have ever tasted anything close to my grandmother’s. They also served their version of Boereg, a similar bread to Choereg but layered with cheese and herbs.   We had rice and bulgur pilaf, a staple in my home.  I was in a carb/bread coma!

I could go on and on about the cheeses, the spices and the coffee.  I do have to share how special the tea was.  A perfect afternoon was sipping Turkish tea at the Topkapi Palace overlooking the Bosphorous and munching on baklava after a lunch of lamb kofta.  I love the tea served in glass vessels small and perfect… a special way to end an afternoon.

My heart is full and the memories are filling me up in such a special way.  This city is beautiful and the people are friendly.  I hope I will be able to go back someday.  Josh, this was a gift that I will cherish forever and the best part was spending the time with you.

 

 

 

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kitchen girl

February 28th, 2014 | Posted by admin in UPDATES - (1 Comments)

Sometimes we connect with others in a way we never thought possible… and sometimes that connection is with a special pet.  My Kitchen Girl… my best friend, Callie passed away.  It has taken me a few weeks to write about her passing.  She was my constant companion.  If I moved to another room she was right by my side.  In the kitchen she peered at me from under the kitchen table, watching my every move.  If I was baking and mixing then she was right at my feet, waiting for her turn to lick the beaters!  Yes, it was always my treat to her for watching over me.

My sweet girl Callie was unlike any other dog I have had.  She was huge… gentle… soft… calm… sweet… watchful… and loving.  If I was upset or sick she would know.  She would find me and become my lap dog, sitting next to me on the sofa, her head perched in my lap.  Her presence calmed me down and made me feel better always.  When I walked into the house she waited for me and when I left she looked at me as if to say don’t worry I’ll be watching the house, but come home soon.

As a puppy Callie had two operations on both knees, I spent many nights laying with her on a pile of quilts stroking her soft ears and keeping her calm.  We became the best of friends then and I know she spent the rest of her life giving back to me tenfold.  At night she continued to expect to sleep with us, so my 110 lb Great Pyrenees nestled herself between us most nights.  Many mornings I would wake up with that sweet face
resting on my pillow.  I can’t explain how much I miss my girl.

I will have more dogs, but I am not sure I will ever have a friend like Callie.  She was my big polar bear, my little cookie, and my dearest friend.  If you are not a dog person you will not understand my sadness and the many tears I have shed.  She was not just a dog to me… she was my girl, who I am forever grateful to have had in my life.

(Callie sleeping)

 

 

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breast cancer walk

August 16th, 2013 | Posted by admin in UPDATES - (0 Comments)

I just witnessed a sea of women walking down Tower Road.  Pink hair, pink shoes, pink shirts, banners… all walking for those that have been touched by breast cancer.  It was a beautiful sight on this gorgeous day.

 

 

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farmers market finds

July 3rd, 2013 | Posted by admin in UPDATES - (0 Comments)

I love carrots and you can’t beat the color!  The market is a visual feast.

I slice and sauté green garlic with veggies or pasta… a great flavor!

A bunch of beets… beautiful!

 

 

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mother’s day

May 20th, 2013 | Posted by admin in UPDATES - (0 Comments)

I’m a bit late, but I wanted to thank my family for a wonderful Mother’s day, I didn’t lift a finger.  All the cooking was done by my son and husband.  My other son did the initial clean-up and organization for a great breakfast.  Cinnamon French toast made with homemade bread from Aunt Tammy… delicious!  Scrambled eggs with fresh herbs couldn’t have been better.  In addition, peppered bacon, maple cured sausage, fresh fruit, bagels with cream cheese and tomatoes, capers, cucumbers, onions, and fresh squeezed orange juice was on the menu.  My gifts were perfect.  One of my favorites was my husband’s flowers that have lasted all week and keep getting more beautiful!  I’m sharing those pictures of the most amazing peonies… love them!

Thanks to my guys for making my day so very special.

 

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mom’s birthday celebration!

May 17th, 2013 | Posted by admin in UPDATES - (1 Comments)

My Mom  turned “80” this month and last weekend we spent time celebrating her Birthday.  At 80 you don’t want to plan too many events, so we kept it at one major activity a day and then we just decided to be in the moment.

We started on Thursday evening, my family flying into Chicago from Charlotte and an easy rib dinner at Miller’s Pub.  Dear Elizabeth, my adopted “Niece”, organized this.

Friday morning, a beautiful day for a wonderful breakfast at Wildberry on Randolph.  The breakfast was delicious.  We ordered amazing pancakes, omelettes and the best coffee, Intelligentsia.  It was a perfect start to our birthday celebration weekend.

We drove back to the burbs to cook and chill.  My sister Tammy made the best oatmeal Oatmeal Cinnamon Bread.  We still have a loaf in the freezer!  She also started on her Chocolate Ganache Cake.  I was busy roasting the chicken for the Chicken Salad Veronique  and cutting all the veggies for the Chopped Salad.  I cooked corn, boiled eggs, chopped up Persian cucumbers, red onions, and tomatoes, and made crispy bacon.  I chopped up roasted chicken breasts, grapes, tarragon, fennel, and celery, and soaked my currants for a delicious chicken salad.  I made a wonderful, but simple French vinaigrette for our chopped salad.  All the prep work was for Saturday’s luncheon honoring Mom’s Birthday.  We had a garden cake made at “Three Tarts Bakery” in Northfield.  My niece mixed up a special iced tea, adding peach nectar, frozen peach slices, oranges, and lemons.  Shaynah was in charge of tea and the popovers, another hot scrumptious bread.

I had cut spring flowers and used whatever pink and green linens and dishes I had to complete a festive table.  The vintage dollies were fun to scatter around the table.

Mom sat and watched “Argo” while we entertained ourselves in the kitchen.  It is so much fun to cook with my sister and niece.  We all seemed to just have a good synergy.  It was easy, fluid, and fun… a great team in the kitchen!

The luncheon was lovely and filled with old friends, which made the day so very special for Mom.  I cannot stress enough that no matter what food we served it wasn’t as important as the people that gathered around the table.  My Mom was happy, excited, thrilled, and thankful!  We never get too old for a special Birthday celebration!

After lunch we hung out in the backyard, relaxing on the hammock, and enjoying the Charlotte weather my family brought to Chicago.  Baby Aiden (Shaynah’s adorable son) found a new love for the hammock that Uncle Garry introduced her to.

Another trip back to Chicago to hang with the girls.  We had leftover luncheon food for dinner and it was good night for Mom and Aiden.  But now time for the rest of us to go out to celebrate and toast.  We started at “Pops” with a wonderful pink champagne.  Our next shop was “The Pump Room” redesigned and stunning filled with beautiful looking people and great drinks!

Sunday was another gorgeous day.  We slept late, made breakfast, and walked and shopped down Michigan Ave.  Mom was in her wheelchair for ease and speed… Aiden was in his stroller.  It was a great workout for all.  We were prepping ourselves for dinner at “Girl & the Goat”.

One of my favorite places to dine… I love the small plate concept.  First order of business was fresh bread and I’m sorry but I can’t even remember which breads we chose, they were delicious and eaten in record time!  Next we ordered the green beans with cashews and a fish sauce that has changed my taste for green beans.  I have never enjoyed this vegetable until eating them at Girl & the Goat.

We were all salivating and devouring the beans.  The chickpea fritters with trumpet mushrooms, okra, mushroom aioli, and prairie fruits chèvre is another one of my favorite vegetable options.  It was a hit!  I will not bore you with everything we ordered but the diver scallops in a brown butter kimchi with hazelnuts and avocado was another wonderful choice.  We ordered beef cheeks, pork belly and more.  I have to mention the “Wood-Fired Walter’s Chicken” with ramp goddess dressing… I can only say amazing!

This group loves sweets so we ordered three different ones.  Our variety of sweets included a “Milk chocolate sponge cake” with rhubarb and passion fruit, “Sticky Date Cake”, and the best of all “Miso-Butterscotch Budino”, with bacon toffee (I could live on that!), glazed pineapple and candied cashews.  This dessert needs to be revisited and hopefully I can try to recreate something with these elements.  We were all completely full, happy, and glad we had chosen this as our celebration dinner.  It was the perfect ending to our birthday celebration for mom.

I shared this weekend with you all because it reflects the purpose of my blog… bringing family and friends together with food is the best!

 

 

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How do you say thank you… and goodbye in the same breath?  I apologize for this post to those of you who really just want to read about food, flowers, and entertaining.   But food for me has always involved relationships and family.

I have learned that food, entertaining and the happiness it brings opens you up to new friendships and that is why we need to make sharing a meal with friends at our own tables a part of our lives.   I am fortunate to adore my clients… I really do enjoy working with and for them.  But there are a few people who seem to shine so brightly.  The friend and client I am speaking of had a combination of truth, kindness, brilliance, and she touched my life in a very special way.  And of course she was a dog lover like me.

I started cooking for this amazing woman who encouraged me to go down this path.  We started talking about her style, her favorite flavors and spices, the way she wanted to entertain, and the importance of enjoying her home and sharing her home with others.  This relationship morphed into weekly cooking and special diners for family and friends.  And then we became friends, good friends, and this is the gift that food gave me a wonderful, honest, caring, reciprocal friendship.  It was like an angel landed into my life because as much as I did for her she gave back to me in encouragement, honesty, laughter, and support.  I cannot say enough about how special Elizabeth Cheval was.

We never know where life will lead us, it is a journey and on the way if we meet one or two truly exceptional people how lucky are we.

If we can call them friends then we are even more fortunate.  So I am a very rich person because of “food”.  It has brought me these treasured friendships and it has warmed my soul when family gathers, and it has opened up roads for me yet to explore.

One of Liz’s favorite guilty pleasures were my Brownies.  She would call me to make a batch to bring to the office for a special meeting or to bring as her dessert addition to a friend’s home for an evening… or just the need to have a few in the freezer to sneak and enjoy when she needed a bit of sweetness in her life!   I am reworking them as “Liz’s Best Turtle Brownies”.  I will forever think of her when I make them.  Thank you Liz for your inspiration!

I use this brownie recipe, placing ½ of the brownie mixture into the pan.  I make homemade Carmel sauce.  The recipe is Ina Garten’s and referenced below.  I put about ½ cup of pecan halves on the brownie mixture. Then I pour ½ cup of the Carmel sauce on top. Next I spread the rest of the brownie mixture on top and bake.  The final step is to place in fridge for an hour cut and serve!

 

 

RECIPE: Caramel Sauce

 

INGREDIENTS:
• 1 ½ cups sugar
• 1/3 cup water
• 1 ¼ cups heavy cream
• ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

 

DIRECTIONS:
• Mix the water and sugar in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan.

• Cook over low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until the sugar dissolves. Do not stir.

• Increase the heat to medium and boil uncovered until the sugar turns a warm chestnut brown (about 350 degrees F on a candy thermometer), about 5 to 7 minutes, gently swirling the pan to stir the mixture. Be careful – the mixture is extremely hot! Watch the mixture very carefully at the end, as it will go from caramel to burnt very quickly.

• Turn off the heat. Stand back to avoid splattering and slowly add the cream and vanilla. Don’t worry – the cream will bubble violently and the caramel will solidify.

• Simmer over low heat, stirring constantly, until the caramel dissolves and the sauce is smooth, about 2 minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature, at least 4 hours. It will thicken as it sits.

 

 

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family dinner

March 20th, 2013 | Posted by admin in UPDATES - (1 Comments)

There is nothing better than having family over for dinner especially family you don’t get to see often.  How lucky were we to have my nephew Jared and his lovely wife Marisa in town from California.  Then the added gift of having Elizabeth and Sam… who call me Aunt Pam, also joining us.  Their parents, Doug and Sue (my sister’s brother-in-law and wife), drove up from Champaign, and we were a group of ten with my two boys Zach and Josh.  Garry and I were thrilled and it was such a wonderful evening.

We served the brick chicken, rice pilaf, grilled vegetables, and a large kale & bib lettuce mixed salad.  Sue brought a delicious recipe of Tabouli salad made with cooked Quinoa, a great alternative to bulgar, to keep the recipe gluten free.  We had a tub of delicious hummus and pitas.  Dessert was an “All Butter Cream Cheese” pound cake, pecan brownies, fresh berries, raspberry sauce, and whipped cream.  Then of course I served three flavors of gelato… a small tablespoon just made dessert perfect!  Sunset, a grocery store here in the Chicago area, carries a brand called “Maples Gelato”.  I picked up the flavors Raspberries & Cream, Sea Salt Carmel Almond, and Cardamom Ginger… this is a must try!

I have not mentioned that they all brought wine… wonderful reds and whites to compliment the evening.  I started this blog talking about how food brings us together and what a gift it is when we have guests to share our table with.  This is why we cook, why we have a dining room table and why we say yes, please come to dinner!

 

 

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girl’s trip up north

February 22nd, 2013 | Posted by admin in UPDATES - (0 Comments)

This week I am spending a few days with a great group of women for yoga, cross country skiing, cooking, movies, wine, and conversation.  I am forever grateful to our hostess Karen, as she has the amazing home we are so lucky to stay at and makes us all feel so welcome.

Culvers was our stop to eat on the 6 hr trip up to this winter wonderland.  We arrive and settle into our rooms and the kitchen.  This group cooks!

Whatever we bring, it’s easy and delicious… always a treat.  The first night’s dinner was Nancy’s salmon, sautéed Swiss chard, and brown basmati rice… delicious!  Then movie night and off to bed.  We packed lunch for the next day, wonderful tuna fish sandwiches, Minneolas, apples, and a mix of dried nuts and fruit.  It was the perfect mix to keep our energy up.

After yoga and skiing, a quick grocery stop for wine, cheese, veggies, and crackers.  We listened to music, read, and relaxed.  Then it was my turn to cook dinner.  I made easy brick chicken with an apricot, honey, mustard, and wine glaze.  I also prepared the lemon asparagus risotto recipe that is already posted.  The girls made a salad and we were again toasting with wine, and enjoying the gift of friendship.  Of course I added chocolate dipped brickle cookies for dessert.

Today we headed out to a very cool shop “Northfield Cabinetry” to meet some talented craftsmen.  Then off to another ski trail.  Let me explain I love to ski, but I am not an athlete or someone who does cardio on a regular basis… though of course I should!  So I ski for about an hour and stay back while the others ski for another hour.  I am blogging and setting up for our indoor picnic lunch.  Tonight it’s Barb’s meatball and sauce with salad and garlic bread.  This group never goes hungry.

 

 

 

 

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valentine’s day

February 18th, 2013 | Posted by admin in UPDATES - (0 Comments)

How lucky am I?  My hubby brought me two dozen roses in a beautiful shade of pink and orange (my favorite!).  He remembered where I go for wholesale flowers, how perfect!  I am beyond happy as the fragrance is amazing and so are the flowers.

As for our dinner plans… he made steak and lobster with a twice-baked potato and sugar snap peas.  The potato is courtesy of “Foodstuffs”.  It was delicious and so nice to have him cook for me.  For dessert I made a Banana Tarte Tatin.  I melted about 1/3 stick of salted butter with ¾ cup of brown sugar in an iron skillet.  Added about 5 medium sliced bananas and cooked for another minute.  Then I rolled out a sheet of puff pastry dough that I had defrosted in the fridge and covered the banana mixture.  I cooked for approx. 30 minutes at 400 degrees.  Then I inverted the pastry onto a plate and served with vanilla ice cream.  It was delicious. You could try this with pears, peaches, or apples.  Easy!  I’m sorry we ate it so fast I forgot to take many pictures.  Enjoy!

 

 

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